Tag Archive for: heather smith barrel racing

The Art and Science of Barrel Horse Training – Effective Techniques, Simplified and Defined

The Art and Science of Barrel Horse Training – Effective Techniques, Simplified and Defined

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #174 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
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Would you like to be a better barrel horse trainer?

Would you believe many of the same techniques used with horses are also used with dogs, and most other animals?

Of course a few differences and exceptions apply based on the species and individuals we’re working with, but barrel horse training doesn’t have to be the confusing, frustrating grey area we often make it out to be.

Even if you’ve been successful with the methods you apply, a firmer understanding of the techniques you’re using, and even what techniques you’re not – creates opportunity for more clarity and confidence as you develop your horses.

Being a serious student of the horse led me to studying, learning, memorizing, experimenting and experiencing what you could call “Horse Training 101.”

Truthfully, these basics don’t vary too much based on style, preference or what clinician you follow.

What I’ve shared below are the tried and true methods we all use, whether we know it or not – and they’re the exact same methods we can all apply a little differently for even better results!

It’s not so much what we do, but how and when. We’ll be better prepared for the how and when, when we better understand the what! Today I’ve shared all of the above.

If you’re overwhelmed, yet fascinated by terms like operant and classical conditioning, bridge stimulus, or would like to better understand the best ways to use positive and negative reinforcement (you’ll be surprised by this one) to create everything you want in your dream barrel horse – and none of the stuff you don’t want, then join me for this very special article. Read more

Release, Stretch, Relax, Repeat! Four Steps to Maximize Strength, Lengthen Stride & Increase SPEED

Release, Stretch, Relax, Repeat!  Four Steps to Maximize Strength, Lengthen Stride & Increase SPEED

I have to admit in years past my pre and post-ride support routine was pretty minimal.

If I had time or was feeling inspired I would sometimes stretch before a run and would try to cold hose or apply ice boots on after hard, strenuous work.

I also tried to spend adequate time slowly warming up and cooling down, but we all know how that goes!

The support I provide my horses today is much different. This is for a couple reasons. One is that I know better, and so I DO better. The second is that the middle-aged horses in our pasture right now each have physical issues that require some maintenance.

I’ve worked hard to get them to the state of wellness they enjoy today and so I put a lot of effort toward keeping them there under the stresses of travel and speed work. Had they benefitted from a program like the one I follow now when they were younger, they might not require the level of maintenance they do.

In other words, it’s better to go the extra mile with supporting our horse’s physical well-being by seeming to do even MORE than they require in the present, than risk being forced to in the future… OR have them forced into an early retirement.

In the video below I’ve shared the very in-depth and specific pre-ride and run routine I do on a daily basis to maximize performance AND help prevent soundness or health issues from slowing us down. Read more

Three Steps to Being Your Own (Part-time) Barrel Horse Bodyworker

Three Steps to Being Your Own (Part-time) Barrel Horse Bodyworker

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #171 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
For the latest episodes subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcast app.


You already know it’s more than a full-time job being a barrel racer – it’s MULTIPLE full-time jobs! Including, but not limited to – stall cleaner, nutritionist, truck driver, scheduler, horse trainer, equine behaviorist, Vet., massage therapist, and the list goes on!

When you’re (understandably) feeling spread thin, it’s hard to find motivation to go deeper in a certain area without risk of neglecting others. In today’s post, I’ll be sharing why it’s so critical that we take our understanding of how our horse’s bodies work, and how we can best support them, to the next level.

Even if we would prefer to leave all the health and therapy mumbo jumbo to the professional equine bodyworkers or Vets., investing in our own education and skills is a great way to take what’s good and make it even better.

Below I’ve outlined a critical prerequisite, plus the areas that most deserve our time and attention (with links to resources), AND how to fit it all in amongst all the other demands of barrel racing! Read more

How to Evaluate, Find and Enhance Saddle Fit for Faster Barrel Racing

How to Evaluate, Find and Enhance Saddle Fit for Faster Barrel Racing

When your run your hands down your horse’s back, does he tighten, flinch, shrink away or spasm?

Is there atrophy behind the withers or depressions where your horse’s shoulders have rotated forward?

Are you dealing with stubborn soreness or lameness issues that seem to need constant management?

Is your horse’s topline less round and full than before – over his neck, back and hindquarters?

Does your horse have a short, choppy, uneven stride or seem irritable, emotional or impulsive?

Are you not quite stopping the clock in competition?

If so, ALL these symptoms can be caused (and resolved) by saddle fit!

Barrel saddle designs have come a long way in recent years, but still many saddle makers aren’t willing to buck tradition.

But today’s competitive environment requires a higher level understanding of form, fit and function to meet the demands of timed speed event horses in motion – allowing them to gather and collect then stride out comfortably, consistently and quickly over the long haul!

Not only that, but barrel racers who have genuine concern for their barrel horses health and well-being want what’s best for their equine partners soundness and longevity.

I’m passionate about both these areas and am glad to have followed an immense learning curve in the last few years Read more

Study, Compare and Refine Second Barrel Footfall to Get on the Fast Track!

Study, Compare and Refine Second Barrel Footfall to Get on the Fast Track!

When I got together with a few barrel buddies recently there was a lot of awkward silence, broken up with a few verbal “WOWs.” You could almost hear the wheels turning.

We were measuring and comparing where our horse’s feet travel on the barrel pattern. The uncertainty in the air was palpable, so I reminded these gals (both with 1D horses) that “different” didn’t necessarily mean wrong.

But like me, I knew they were ALSO thinking about how these measurements related to how their horses used themselves in a run. The possibility of taking something good and making it much better was exciting!

I thought back to times I had ridden with Charmayne James, who teaches students to travel the same distance around the turns, or Lisa Lockhart who advises folks to follow a path that is widest (approximately 5-7 ft.) at the start of the turn, that gradually decreases on the back side and is narrowest at the finish (approximately 1-3 ft.), then there’s Lynn McKenzie who teaches a straighter longer approach, which includes more room on the back side of the barrels.

I was also reminded of two horsemanship clinicians who taught the same program fundamentals, but one prefers to swing the shoulders to prepare a horse to perform a flying lead change, whereas the other preferred to move the hips over.

The same idea could apply to each barrel racer’s preference when it comes to pre-turn positioning – do YOU push the hips in, or lift the shoulders up… both, or neither? It’s not that one way is right or wrong, and to a degree they each accomplish similar goals.

They key I believe, is to “Be firm on principle but flexible on method.” – Zig Ziglar

Remember also that if something works for one person and not for another, it’s often due to how the technique was applied, OR even the makeup of the raw material they had to start with (the horse’s foundational understandings). I encourage you to always go deeper before writing something off as “not working!”

When we took a stroll through the pattern, first on Lucky then on Kat with each rider placing the horse where we felt they should be. This is what we found at the second barrel: Read more

Start Strong to Finish FAST – Catch the Correct Lead for a Stress-Free Alley Set Up Every Time

Start Strong to Finish FAST – Catch the Correct Lead for a Stress-Free Alley Set Up Every Time

The degree of responsiveness we NEED at the gate is NOT conditional – it HAS to hold up in any and all circumstances, even (and especially) when energy and adrenaline is high.

For some it’s not quite responsiveness that’s a problem, but the horse’s emotional stability. Ever catch yourself tip toeing around ever so subtly as you ask your horse to get in position because he’s SO reactive at the gate that he’s borderline unpredictable or dangerous?

If that’s the case it’s a different kind of problem, yet it also needs to be addressed before we can truly be set up for a successful run in the alley.

I addressed both these issues and more in today’s NEW Pro Members video post. Read more

Improve Horse and Human Posture for more Power (and Traction) on the Pattern

Improve Horse and Human Posture for more Power on the Pattern

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #168 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
For the latest episodes subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or Google Play.


The other day I was reading about some of the conditioning programs of top barrel racers, as well as reflecting back on my notes with suggestions from some veterans. They each talked about how many miles they go or minutes they spend at the walk, trot, then lope, etc. in each workout.

While it’s good to monitor this and have systems for keeping us on track, if we just trot and lope around without much focus on HOW our horse’s are moving and HOW we can help them move more correctly, when the time comes to enter up we might be leaving money on the table, or worse yet leaving our faces in the dirt. When a horse takes a digger, while it may also be a legitimate case of the ground not being prepared properly, more often than not it’s that the horse hasn’t been prepared properly.

Of course movement alone CAN condition a horse, but if you’re developing a horse for a specific event, with specific challenges (like less than ideal ground conditions) then it requires a more specific program. If your horse has certain tendencies, whether related to how he’s put together, or how he’s been trained and ridden, or even damaged and injured in the past, all this requires that we adjust our program based on our horse’s individual needs, AND make sure it’s in alignment with our goals and supportive of our horse’s long term well-being. Read more

Balance the Responsibility/Responsiveness Ratio for More Efficiency on the Barrel Pattern

How to Balance the Responsibility/Responsiveness Ratio for More Efficiency on the Barrel Pattern

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #166 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
For the latest episodes subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or Google Play.


As barrel racers – we’re conditioned to believe that “practice makes perfect” and that “repetition” is how we and our horses learn.

But I’m calling us out on that today.

You see, doing the same thing over and over and over, like walking, then trotting and loping the pattern for say, three months to start a barrel horse might be a recipe for disaster, IF you’re not doing it in the right WAY.

REPETITION ALONE DOES NOT TEACH HORSES. Read more